Jason Winocour, Partner, Hunter Public Relations
Over 20 years of media relations experience in government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors.
It's inconceivable that I would have taken this position a decade ago. So why a change of heart? Two reasons: One, mainstream media outlets make plenty of mistakes; and two, online news and social media content providers often amplify them.
The most recent study of reporting accuracy for US newspapers, conducted in 2005, found a staggering 61% of articles had at least one error. Sure, 2005 seems like a long time ago. But consider The New York Times issued corrections on an average of nine articles per day from September 18 to 24, 2012.
Misquotes and quote distortions are well represented among the types of errors committed by mainstream media outlets. A few months ago, Fox News misquoted President Obama about not being born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The misquote was repeated by The Washington Post.
Mitt Romney recently spoke on Good Morning America and a quote of his was distorted by the Huffington Post.
The issue of misquotes and quote distortions is even more serious online, where many news sites, tweeters, and bloggers don't adhere to standard journalistic practices.
A few years ago, a Columbia University publication included the following quote from Debbie Almontaser, principal of an Arab-themed school in New York: "I don't recognize the people who committed the [9/11] attacks as either Arabs or Muslims. Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and have stolen my religion." A host of online news sources chose to remove the second part of the quote and thus accused Almontaser of being "a 9/11 denier." Eventually, she was forced to resign as principal.
In today's media landscape, where misquotes and distortions can be wielded as potent weapons, PR pros shouldn't be shy about asking media to review quotes prior to publication.
But because we must respect freedom of the press, PR pros can't go down the slippery slope of asking media to share entire articles with us. Checking quotes to ensure accuracy or editing them to minimize the risk of distortion by others, is an acceptable middle ground.
Beth Monaghan, Principal, cofounder of InkHouse
Has extensive experience in overseeing strategy and shaping social content.
On September 20, The New York Times officially banned "after-the-fact quote approvals" in a memo stating: "demands for after-the-fact quote approval have gone too far."
The presidential ad campaigns are scary proof that quotes taken out of context can do real harm. In journalism, however, reporters by and large seek to report the truth.
Asking to approve a quote is often perceived as an insult to a reporter's ethics, intelligence, or both, and often precipitates the relationship's demise. Good PR is predicated on good media relationships. Here are some better ways to reduce the likelihood of a misquote:
- Understand the nature of the media outlet. Are you speaking with a reporter, a columnist, or a blogger? Is the interview for an opinion piece or a straight news article?
Good PR pros prepare this information and provide advice on navigating the questions.
- Train your spokespeople. Often, a desire to approve a quote is the manifestation of a desire to self-edit - to provide the quote you wish you spoke.
A well-trained spokesperson knows their sound bites and delivers them concisely and clearly. These spokespeople are rarely misquoted.
- Follow up. If you have completed an interview and suspect the reporter did not understand your points, follow up with a clear and concise written summary.
- Provide a written quote at the outset. This comes with virtually no risk of a misquote. These opportunities arise most frequently in response to breaking news. A quote offering a unique point of view, coupled with a PR professional who can get it to the media quickly, can yield great quotes in coveted media outlets - with little room for reporter error.
Misquotes will happen - they are part of the opportunity cost for gaining media coverage. Although few and far between, in the cases of gross misquotes, there is recourse in corrections.
And today, those can happen within minutes online.
It's understandable that PR pros worry about the images of their clients. However, journalists and bloggers are under no obligation to let them see quotes before a story is published. On the record means on the record.